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Closing Thoughts: It's lonely in the 500 level

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Mariano Rivera(notes) made his major league debut in Anaheim just over 14 years ago, on May 23, 1995, and he was not treated well by the Angels. He went 3.1 innings, allowing eight hits and five runs. Rivera was pulled in the fourth after giving up a homer to Jim Edmonds(notes) and a walk to Tim Salmon(notes). If anyone looked like a Hall of Famer that day, it was Anaheim left-hander Chuck Finley (9.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 15 K).

The Yankees were this close to dealing Rivera to Detroit that June...but then his velocity jumped. New York GM Gene Michael shut down trade discussions. Rivera introduced his cutter in '97 -- he discovered the pitch accidentally, playing catch with Ramiro Mendoza -- and he's been nearly unhittable ever since.

Five hundred saves later, Rivera is clearly an inner-circle great. He leads all active pitchers in career ERA (2.30) and WHIP (1.02), his ERA+ is the best in major league history (197), and he ranks fourth in K-to-BB ratio (3.93). Rivera has eight sub-2.00 ERA seasons to his credit. In the postseason, he somehow gets better: 8-1, 0.77 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 5.81 K/BB, 34 SV, 117.1 IP. He's recorded the final out in the World Series three times.

It's difficult to make a serious argument on behalf of anyone else as the greatest closer of all-time. In fact, it's possible that no one in baseball history has ever been as good at anything. We don't have many reasons to discuss Rivera in this column because he eliminates all doubt, but today -- before the usual parade of Nats and Marlins -- let's tip the imaginary cap to No. 42.

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Matt Lindstrom(notes) is on the DL (elbow), yet Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez still seems reluctant to replace him. Leo Nunez(notes) and Dan Meyer(notes) are the key members of the committee. This from the Miami Herald:

Once Nunez shows the ankle is no longer a concern, Gonzalez said he would give him an opportunity to close. But Gonzalez also said that, with Matt Lindstrom on the disabled list until late July, he doesn't have a definitive closer.

"I said he (Nunez) would get an opportunity," Gonzalez said. "When he shows he's healthy, and he's ready to go and when Meyer can't go. We could go back and forth (between Nunez and Meyer)."

It sounds increasingly like a 50/50 matchup proposition. There's still a clear opportunity here for someone to take over Lindstrom's closing duties. Meyer qualifies at SP, which enhances his value a bit. The brutally overused Kiko Calero(notes) (shoulder) is a solid speculative DL add.

Frank Francisco(notes) will need "at least one more non-save appearance" before reclaiming the ninth inning from CJ Wilson(notes), according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Francisco allowed a game-tying two-run bomb to Mark Reynolds(notes) last Thursday. (And it really was a bomb. Video here).

When asked if Scott Downs(notes) would return from the DL when eligible on July 3, Cito Gaston replied, "I have no confidence in that at all."

Mike MacDougal(notes) was flat-out impressive during the Nats' tour of the A.L. East. He pitched well in the biggest moments -- back-to-back saves in New York, two scoreless frames against the Jays -- and, despite a curious lack of Ks, he now has a relatively secure hold on the closing gig in Washington. He's still just as scary as ever, of course. He's issued five walks in his last seven appearances, and he's whiffed only one batter.

If you're looking for relatively safe, un-owned RPs who might inherit post-deadline saves, try Baltimore's Jim Johnson(notes) (great all year, lights-out in June), Pittsburgh's John Grabow(notes) and Cleveland's Chris Perez(notes).

If instead you're looking for a refreshingly minty spreadsheet, keep scrolling...

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